Watching or reading the news of the day makes me cringe. Does this also describe your feelings?
For increasingly it appears our country is governed through the lens of partisan politics. And many of us now feel compelled to line up to support our chosen “tribal” leaders, regardless of their qualifications, and often without examining our own needs and beliefs.
It’s become so clear that having the right kind of experience to serve and the willingness to provide oversight really matters in national government.
And here’s the thing: this matters a lot locally, too.
The stakes may seem smaller to you at the local level. It might feel like it’s okay to pull the lever based on how you feel about what’s going on nationally. But in reality, that’s not a civically responsible move. We live our lives here in Berkeley Heights, and how our Town is governed has a direct relationship to the quality of our everyday experiences, the value of our homes, and the taxes we pay. Deciding how you vote for Town Council needs to be carefully thought through.
And that’s especially true now, as our Town makes major capital investments, manages new residential development downtown, and fights to secure enough funding to pave our roads and handle our recyclables—all while limiting tax increases. The Mayor has experience as she previously worked as our Town Administrator and is working hard, but governing our Town is not a one-woman job. We need to have people on Council who can provide input and oversight, represent all residents, ask tough questions, and avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.
I’ve done my homework—read the materials, seen the Town Council candidates speak in the municipal debate, and googled around. Here’s what I found:
Running on the Republican ticket are Manny and Gentiana. Manny Couto is an award-winning real estate professional and small business owner. He has served on our Council for three years, working hard on big issues such as municipal redevelopment and doing hands-on volunteer work to improve community spirit and amenities. He’s contributed to the Downtown Beautification Committee, Peppertown Park Renewal Committee, and Veterans Memorial Park Committee. He earned a B.A. from Rutgers. I know Manny personally through his volunteer work and know his warmth, honesty, and commitment are huge assets to the Council.
Gentiana Brahimaj is a self-made woman who immigrated to the U.S. as a young woman without knowing English (but with two degrees, one in French and one in Albanian). She’s worked hard to build a career that spans the legal, administrative, and hospitality industries. Gentiana really knows her way around contracts and budgets and understands how business gets done. In Town, she’s devoted many hours to being a class mom, chairing school fundraisers, and volunteering for Girl Scouts. She ran for the Board of Education, so a desire to serve isn’t new to her. She lives in my neighborhood and I can attest that Gentiana is a lovely combination of tough, smart, and big heart.
The Democratic slate, Julie and Rina, consists of two teachers. These women are well-educated, both with multiple teaching degrees, and are probably very good at what they do. Yet, just read their resumes and it’s clear that their entire world—professional, volunteer, and personal—revolve around the education of children. Are they the best choice for Berkeley Heights Town Council as our Town wrestles with a host of development, infrastructure, and management issues? We have one award-winning public school teacher on the Council now—Susan Poage—and she brings that perspective and skill set to our Town. Having half of our Council members with the same background will cheat our Town out of the opportunity to benefit from diverse and relevant experience.
So, I urge you--don’t get sidetracked by slick campaign communications paid for by outsiders and containing partial truths. Don’t shortchange yourselves and your neighbors by taking this election lightly, or view it as a proxy for national grievances. Take a look at the experience of the candidates we have to choose from and evaluate who can best serve in your interests. That’s what I’ve done. And I’m voting for Manny and Gentiana, despite how I feel about what’s happening on the national scene, because I want the best for Berkeley Heights, a Town that’s been my home for two decades.